Lemongrass Essential Oil (Cymbopogon citratus)
Color: Yellow, amber brown
Method of Extraction: Steam distilled
Plant parts: Grass, leaves
Countries: West Indies, Asia, Africa, Central America
Scent: Lemony, strong, fresh, grassy, herbal
Odor intensity: High
Blending note: Top
Fragrance family: Citrus, Herbal
Blends well with: Geranium, Bergamot, other Citrus oils, Lavender
Chemical notes: Aldehydes
Summary of Benefits and Cautions
Analgesic, antidepressant, antimicrobial, antioxidant, astringent, bactericidal, carminative, febrifuge, insecticide, sedative
Aching muscles, indigestion, nerve conditions, muscular pain, poor circulation, colitis, headaches, sore throats, insect repellent, antiseptic
Do not use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Do not use if you have GI issues like ulcers or GERD. Skin irritant, use in low dilutions. Perform a patch test if you have sensitive skin and avoid use on broken or irritated skin. Avoid if you have diabetes. Consult your doctor if you take anticoagulants.
Minimum age: 2 years or older
Lemongrass is a popular ingredient in Asian cooking with a flavor similar to lemon zest. Not only is lemongrass flavorful, but it has been consumed for hundreds of years to help with fevers, infection, digestion, and even to regulate menstrual cycles. In fact, lemongrass is called “fevergrass” in some areas of the world. It has a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine (1,2,3).
In Ayurveda, it is used for kidney infections, headaches, immunity and depression (4).
As a fragrance, lemongrass is also popular. Kathy Keville (5) notes that lemongrass gives Ivory soap its distinctive scent. Lemongrass is also used to fragrance everything from perfumes to insect repellents.
- Lemongrass can help reduce bacteria and fungi.
- It can be used to reduce fevers.
- In skin & hair care, it can be used for acne and dandruff.
- Lemongrass should be used sparingly on the skin, however it can be useful for pain and sore muscles.
- It makes a good insect repellent, particularly for fleas, ticks, and lice.
Lemongrass is high in aldehydes (about 80%), with a small amount of monoterpenols and sesquiterpenes. (6). In general, aldehydes are calming to the nervous system, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-fungal. Neral , geranial, and citronellal are all aldehydes (7,8). Schnaubelt states that essential oils high in aldehydes can be sedative and anti-inflammatory but cautions that it works best in low dilutions. In fact, using more may actually negate the effects (9).
Citral—Citral is a mixture of neral and geranial. Citral is a monoterpene aldehyde. Other oils that contain citral are Lemon Verbena and Melissa (7,8,9)
Geranial is responsible for the strong lemony scent, while neral has a less intense lemon odor that is sweeter (10). Both are anti-microbial and insecticidal.
Citronellal is a monoterpenoid and is a predominant scent in citronella. It is an effective insect repellant and is also antifungal(11).
Monoterpenes include limonene and myrcene. They are analgesic, tonic, and help other oils to penetrate the skin (7).
Myrcene is a monoterpene that is also found in Bay and Juniper essential oils.
Geranyl Acetate is an ester that can be classified as a monoterpene. It has a floral yet fruity smell.
Nerol has a sweet, rosy odor that is fresh. It is also found in neroli and hops.
Geraniol is a monoterpenoid and an alcohol. It too has a rosy scent. It can repel mosquitos, but attract bees.
Limonene is a terpene and depending on the isomer, can smell like oranges or turpentine . It is also found in citrus oils and is commonly used in fragrances and the food industry. It is an insecticide and also used in organic herbicides and household cleaning products. As a cleaner, it works like a solvent, which explains in part how lemongrass became infamous as a nail polish remover (see below). As a solvent, it is also used as a paint stripper.
Sesquiterpenes are anti-inflammatory, calming, antiseptic, anti-allergic, and antibacterial (7)
Farnesol is a sesquiterpene alcohol. It is used in perfumery to enhance sweet, floral notes in perfumes. It is a pesticide for mites. (12). It has deodorant properties and is antibacterial.
Lemongrass for fungus and candida:
Lemongrass has antifungal properties and has been studied for use against candida. At very low levels, lemongrass both inhibited candida colonization and was fungicidal. In other words, it killed some of the fungi, and slowed or stopped its growth. Candida can be resistant to conventional treatment, making lemongrass a promising alternative (13).
How to Use Lemongrass For Candida:
While lemongrass seems to be effective against candida, it requires as little bit of thought before jumping into to using it for this purpose. When candida overgrowths occur, it is often in the mouth, digestive tract, or vaginal areas. All of these areas are lined with sensitive mucosal tissue. Several sources caution against using lemongrass extensively for skin use, and specifically note that it is a mucous membrane irritant. Therefore, you should not use lemongrass as a mouth rinse, suppository, douche, or take it orally as a home remedy.
All is not lost though, in 2014, a study found that the vapors of lemongrass were more effective than liquid at inhibiting the growth of candida. Of course, these are laboratory findings and may not apply to humans. But, given the potential for skin and mucosal irritation, inhaling (diffusing) lemongrass oil appears to the safest way to use lemongrass oil (14).
Lemongrass has been used for other fungi as well, including athlete’s foot. Cantele (15) recommends using it in blends for athlete’s foot, stating that it is not only anti-fungal, but is a deodorant for the foot. Since lemongrass can be a skin irritant, you should use it in low concentrations in your blend.
Lemongrass is an astringent oil that can be helpful for oily skin. Since it also is antibacterial, it can be useful for acne. Since the oil can be a skin sensitizer, it should be used in low dilutions (<.7%) and it may be best used for body acne, not facial acne.
Lemongrass is a deodorant oil, meaning it can neutralize odors. Since odors can be bacterial in origin, its antibacterial properties are a bonus.
Deodorants are not the same thing as anti-perspirants. Deodorants are so you don’t smell, anti-perspirants are so you don’t sweat. Sweating can be a good thing though and helps to rid your body of toxins. Lemongrass may actually increase perspiration, helping to remove the bacterial and toxins that cause odor (1).
How to Use Lemongrass as a Deodorant
While the internet abounds with various deodorant recipes, one of the easiest ways to create your own is to purchase an aluminum free deodorant base. You can gently melt this base, stir in your essential oil blend and pour into empty tubes. It doesn’t get much simpler.
Since armpits can be particularly sensitive to essential oils, you should use very light dilutions of essential oils. For the recipe below, weigh out .5 grams of essential oils for a 2 oz. deodorant stick (56 grams). While it does require a scale that measures to two decimal places, weights will give us a much more accurate formulation than drops.
Lemongrass has been studied in a small trial for controlling dandruff in hair. A tonic with 5, 10 or 15% lemongrass oil was applied to a small group of participants. At day 7, there was an improvement in dandruff, with even more progress on day 14 (16). The study found the most effective concentration was 10%, which is higher than I would recommend for the home user that is self-treating. Another study (17) found that 2% in shampoo was also effective. I would start here, and if that is not effective, consult an aromatherapist who can make a personalized blend for you.
Some sources list lemongrass as promoting hair growth, improving shine, reducing oiliness, and improving hair strength. (1,5,15). Aside from a few mentions in aromatherapy books, I couldn’t find any research to back up these claims.
How to Use Lemongrass for Hair:
Muscles and Pain
Some sources indicate that lemongrass can be used as part of a massage oil blend to relieve sore muscles. Lemongrass added to an oil or cream may help to relax muscles, ease cramps, and soothe muscle fatigue (18). Jeanne Rose suggests blending Lemongrass with Rosemary to relieve muscular aches and pains (19).
A few research studies have looked at lemongrass, and in particular the constituent citronellol in mice. Lemongrass appears to anti-nociceptive, which means it helps to make a person more tolerant to pain stimuli. Indeed, in studies, mice exhibited signs of decreased discomfort due to lemongrass (20).
Lemongrass is analgesic and aside from muscle pain, it may also help with headaches and migraines. One 5 year study found that it could be as effective as aspirin in relieving headaches. This was likely due to the eugenol content, and the effect was reduction of platelets sticking together as well as on serotonin levels (which regulates mood among other things) (21).
Fevers, Colds, & Flu
Lemongrass has a long history of being used to reduce fevers. In fact, it has a nickname of fevergrass. In a review of lemongrass essential oil, it was noted “In hot weather, this is the best oil to cool down the body temperature …” (22).
Aromatherapy texts suggest that it can be used for colds and flu.
Lemongrass may also be an excellent anti-bacterial oil. One study tested lemon grass in a laboratory setting against several serious bacteria (E. coli, S. aureus, etc.) and though the bacteria were resistant to antibiotics, most strains were inhibited by lemongrass oil (P. aeruginosa was not) (23).
Another study looked at how well essential oils performed against several bacteria in their vapor form. Lemongrass, cinnamon bark, and thyme required the lowest concentration of vapor to produce positive results (24).
Both Joana Hoare and Julia Lawless (2,25) consider lemongrass to be useful for colitis and indigestion. It may also help with infections in the digestive system like gastroenteritis. This may be related to the herbal uses of lemongrass. There is some scientific evidence of lemongrass decoction reducing “fecal output” (26).
Lemongrass is used in Brazil as a digestive remedy, and one study confirmed its use in inhibiting stomach ulcers (27).
How to Use Lemongrass for Gas
One of the properties of lemongrass is it is carminative. This means it helps to relieve gas. Herbal usage may be the better choice here (e.g. lemongrass tea) however you could make a warm compress with lemongrass oil and place it over your abdomen.
Lemongrass is high in aldehydes, which are known to calm the central nervous system. Lemongrass can be used for stress, nervous exhaustion, and fatigue. Interestingly, despite its calming effects, it may help to improve mental focus when you are feeling drained.
Try blending lemongrass with lime, lavender, patchouli, or frankincense when you need a mental pick-me-up.
Diffusion would be the perfect way to use lemongrass for the nervous system.
Lemongrass is cited in several sources (15,25,28) as being an effective repellent against fleas, lice and ticks.
Other oils useful for ticks include geranium, palmarosa, Virginian cedarwood, vetiver, and amyris (29).
Other oils useful for lice include tea tree and lavender.
Other oils useful for fleas include rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, and citronella (30) (but not for use on cats).
If you have read this far, you have already discovered that Lemongrass essential oil can irritate skin and mucous membranes. Topical use should be limited and kept to .7% or less of the total blend (including carrier oil). What this means is in a typical 2% dilution of essential oils in 1 oz. of carrier oil, no more than 4 drops should be lemongrass. You should not apply it to broken, damaged, or sensitive skin.
Some people are allergic to lemongrass. Obviously you should avoid it if you are allergic.
Lemongrass oil may have drug interactions with some medications, in particular analgesic (pain relieving), anti-convulsant and anti-depressant medications (15). Cantele also cautions against using lemongrass while on chemotherapy drugs, estrogen, nicotine, and reverse transcriptase inhibitor medications.
Can Lemongrass be Used on Children?
Lemongrass should not be used on children under the age of 2. After the age of 2, it may be used with caution. Diffused lemongrass is preferable to topical applications for young children.
Can Lemongrass be Used During Pregnancy?
Lemongrass should not be used during pregnancy. According to WebMD, since lemongrass can stimulate menstrual flow there is a potential for miscarriage. Essentially, we just don’t know if it is safe, so best to avoid it.
Can Lemongrass be Ingested?
You should not ingest lemongrass essential oil. It is a mucous membrane irritant and can irritate the lining of your mouth and digestive tract. Instead, use lemongrass (the plant) in your cooking or make lemongrass tea.
Does Lemongrass Oil Cause Phototoxicity?
Lemongrass oil is not phototoxic.
Is Lemongrass oil toxic to dogs or cats?
According to the ASPCA (32) lemongrass is toxic to horses, dogs and cats. While this applies to eating the plant itself, the site lists the essential oils within lemongrass as one of the toxic agents.
There is conflicting evidence however. Patricia Davis (28) states that there is a long history of using lemongrass to protect animals from fleas and ticks. Cantele (15) corroborates that lemongrass is used with animals to repel insects. It is possible that lemongrass is safe for dogs and horses when used in a bug repellent, but is not safe for them to ingest. You should consult your vet or someone who specializes in essential oils for animals before using lemongrass with your animals.
Can lemongrass turn your skin yellow?
This has indeed been reported by people, but seems to be associated with using too much lemongrass oil. At proper dilutions this should not occur. For more discussion about this phenomenon, see this post.
Can Lemongrass Oil be Used as a Nail Polish Remover?
You should not use lemongrass as a nail polish remover. Even though it works, it is probably riskier than just using an acetone free remover. Because lemongrass is a known skin sensitizer, we need to be careful about getting it on our skin. It must be used in very low dilutions—Tisserand (32) suggests a maximum of .7%. This is the equivalent of about 4 drops of lemongrass in 1 oz. of carrier oil. A blend like that is unlikely to remove any polish.
A sensitization reaction is similar to an allergic reaction, but is caused by overexposure to a substance. Like an allergy, once you develop a sensitization reaction, you can’t be exposed to that substance again as you will continue to react to it. See this post for more details about why you shouldn’t use lemongrass oil as a nail polish remover.
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